What Technology Can't Do

There’s an interesting post on In-House ACCess about Alan Turing’s ‘Turing Test,’ the mathematician's theory that a computer's “intelligence” is based upon the number of times it can fool a human into mistaking it for another human.

In his book, Fooled By Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues that the converse is also true -- a human's “intelligence” can be determined based upon the number of times he or she comes off sounding like a computer. Taleb’s argument is that so much of what we say -- especially in business -- means nothing. In-House ACCess’s Larry Salibra argues that the same is especially true in the legal profession.

Most of us would agree that effective communication requires more than just words; it involves eye contact, physical expression, empathy, thought and sincerity . . . all of those things that computers cannot bring to the table (and much of which is expressed more effectively in-person than by phone, e-mail or text messages). If the bedrock of the business and legal professions is communication – and if this is how we understand our clients' concerns and discuss ways of addressing them – then shouldn't we be doing a better job at it? Shouldn't we be bringing something more to the conversation than what a computer can type on a page? How do we include the human element in today's fast-paced, technology-driven, information-overloaded world?

Perhaps it goes back to building relationships . . . meeting with people face-to-face and learning more about them and their businesses than what merely appears on their website bio pages. In this day of conference calls and web meetings, nothing replaces the opportunity to sit across the table from a client and truly start to delve into the challenges that he or she is facing and how the services or products you offer may help address those challenges (or how they don't). These open and honest discussions help build the relationship and make it easier to effectively communicate, which leads to better client service – and better business and legal professionals.

I typically find that it is much easier to get to the heart of the matter quicker in face-to-face meetings with clients (call me old fashioned). I also find enjoyment in the personal connections that we make during these meetings -- even when they are all about business. I chose to enter the legal profession to help people solve their problems; I have found that I have a similar purpose as a businesswoman, and I know that I am much more effective in working towards this goal when I have a relationship with my clients. After all, that relationship is something that no computer can emulate – no matter how smart it is.

Alternative Fee Arrangements Gain Traction

Recently, the National Law Journal (NLJ) reported that Burger King Holdings Inc., is just one company asking its outside legal counsel to consider "alternative and creative billing" methods in responding to the company's request for proposals -- further evidence that the billable hour is losing popularity among corporate clients who are under mounting pressures to cut outside legal fees. (Another NLJ article this morning also discussed the need for alternative billing models.)

Burger King has negotiated a variety of alternative fee arrangements with its outside counsel, according to the NLJ, including fee caps, blended rates and monthly retainers. Other companies, as well as the American Bar Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel, also are calling for the demise of the billable hour, saying it “breeds inefficiency and is driving up legal costs." A number of law firms are heeding the call to abort and are offering flat fees, success fees and contingency fees. One such firm offering its clients a "smorgasbord of fee options," as mentioned in the article, is Valorem Law Group. Interestingly, Valorem cites the use of Counsel On Call attorneys as one of the reasons that it is able to provide its clients with so many alternative and cost-efficient options.

We applaud Valorem's progressive and straightforward approach with its clients. We have a similar mindset – if our clients see value in working with us, we want to provide solutions that work for them -- whether those solutions include great attorneys, remote work, tested and repeatable processes or alternative billing arrangements.

Another note: For those of you in Tennessee and the surrounding area, I would like to invite you to an upcoming CLE sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association this Friday, February 6, at 9:00 a.m. (CDT). As part of this CLE, a panel of in-house corporate counsel, including Michael Zylstra with Cracker Barrel, Sue Dyer with HCA, and Debra Enderle with Willis North America, will discuss what creative ways and alternative fee options they have utilized in an effort to reduce their legal budgets. Register here.